"It was a hard paradox for us to get right in the game design," co-creative director Raphael Colantonio told Joystiq during QuakeCon 2012, "because we wanted to give you very strong powers, to make you really a badass, but at the same time we didn't want the game to be too easy. So it took awhile to get it right, and some of it is just obvious tuning. Every power has a duration, cost of mana, and some other tunable properties ... So even if your power is incredibly strong, you can mitigate it by saying 'Well, it only lasts three seconds.'"
Ricardo Bare, one of the leads behind Dishonored, echoed that sentiment. "We're always in a discussion about where the line is. Should we move it back a little bit toward constraining the player, or should we go ahead and let the player do this? And as much as possible we try to say 'yes' to the player and enable the cool combinations and powers that they put together."
"But it's really hard sometimes," he added. "And for the most part, the way that we've got the game balanced right now, our intention is: If it feels too easy, increase the difficulty. That's the way I play. If I feel like, 'Wow, I've got a really crazy power combination, this is really easy,' then the game gets more fun for me when I ramp up the difficulty and suddenly everything gets very lethal and super tense."
But no matter what difficulty you plan on, you have the opportunity to shed a lot of blood. You will make a lot of choices while playing Dishonored, many of which could lead to the deaths many of the game's characters. But your actions are not deemed to be "good" or "bad." Instead, Dishonored tracks how much chaos you cause throughout the course of the game, mostly in regard to how many people you kill on your way to the end.
"We did not want to assign a judgment to your play style," Colantonio said. "That's why we did not call it something like 'good vs. bad,' but I think people are going to map it that way anyway. What we're trying to do with that system is really to log in how many people you kill, and your play style, and the endings are reflective of that."
Colantonio doesn't believe that the concept of morality can't be a factor in playing the game, however. "Morality, in a way, belongs to the player and how he feels about what he does. As long as a game can make you feel regrets ... I think some people will feel a bit of a heart pinch if they kill Lady Boyle," he said, referring to the player's assassination target in the QuakeCon demo mission. "And if they do then that's a success no matter what the consequences are or are not in terms of systems. The emotion that it can trigger in you is what we're trying to go for, here."
'Morality, in a way, belongs to the player and how he feels about what he does.'- Raphael Colantonio, co-creative director on Dishonored
Your gameplay options aren't limited to who lives and who dies, of course. There is a lot of flexibility in how to approach different scenarios from mission to mission, even if you're going for a non-lethal playthrough. We asked Bare how much thought went into the number of different paths the team thought up for each level.
"Most of the guys on our team are used to working on this kind of game, so it's just part of their instinct about level design," he said. "But in our level review and feedback process we may be like, 'You know, the party feels like it needs one more way in. What else can we do here?' And we try to support the player's powers, too. We don't really want to have, like, 'This is the hacking path, and this is the sneaking path' ... In general it's kind of an organic thing."
Dishonored is scheduled to launch on October 9 for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.